Saturday, December 26, 2009



I believe it happened during a month when I was spending an inordinate amount of time in bed because of a pressure sore. Thankfully, when I spend time in bed I am able to work on my laptop computer making the downtime not as "down" as it would be otherwise. For some reason I was spending a lot of time reading the Old Testament. I just couldn't seem to get enough of it. I was reading 2 Samuel one afternoon when some words just leaped off the page at me. These words were David's final words recorded by the author or authors of Samuel, preserving a metaphor regarding Jehovah, Christ, The God of Israel. "Now these be the last words of David...The God of Israel...the Rock of Israel spake to me [saying]...And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds..." [2 Samuel 23:1-4] [Emphasis added]

I think David's metaphor concerning Christ struck such a responsive chord in me because of my love for the precious rising of the sun I have witnessed and enjoyed during my lifetime.

I have diminished eyesight. I can't really see out of my right eye and only good enough out of my left eye to read on my computer with the fonts magnified to the max. I can watch TV if I sit close enough to the screen and also movies if I am close to the front of the theater. However, one of the things I still am able to enjoy about life is to wake up each morning just as the sky is beginning to gray and witness the sun beginning to stream through the two large windows in my bedroom. To me it is a glorious and comforting sight.

I believe my love of the morning began when I worked for Kennecott Copper Corp. each summer as a young man. I would make enough money each summer working for Kennecott in Eastern Nevada to pay for two semesters at BYU the following fall and winter. I invariably worked what was known as the "Graveyard Shift" which began at 11:30 p.m. and ended at 7:30 a.m.

The summer I worked as a drill helper I will never forget. The drill was mounted on a rig that could be driven slowly from site to site depending on where holes needed to be drilled. We would drill holes all night and then in the morning the powder crew would come and fill the holes with explosives, ignite them, and the entire town would shake, rattle and roll for just a few minutes during the moment of explosion. Immense electric shovels would then scoop up the shattered earth which contained the precious copper ore, and deposit it in large trucks for ultimate transport to the mill and smelter.

Once the drill began its work the driller and his helper didn't have much to do but watch the drill and correct any problems that might occur.

The Liberty Pit in Ruth, Nevada, where I worked is located in a mountainous area which is more than 7000 feet in elevation. I remember standing and shivering outside in the very cold Nevada night air, hour after hour and night after night, anxiously awaiting one thing -- the arrival of morning. The Nevada nights were beautiful, full of stars, but I felt a great joy inside me as I looked at the Eastern Mountains and could discern them against a graying sky. The dark would reluctantly and imperceptibly give way to the powerful light of the rising sun. The morning star would still be visible, and then the sun would just seem to explode above the mountains and bathe me in its warm, life-giving rays. The long, cold night was over, and one of God's greatest gifts to his children, a new day, had dawned.

In the mission field I became an "early morning Nazi"(translation -- fanatic). I made it part of my mission to always be out of bed before any of my companions. I felt so righteous (self-righteous) as I would sit at my desk studying Spanish and searching the scriptures for an hour or so before my companions would begin to stir. Those hours, undisturbed by the awakening world, became precious to me. I would always make a point of going outside, or looking out the window as the sky would begin to gray to witness another glorious morning burst upon the world.

Arising early did not end with my mission. My most productive time of day was in those early hours before the sun would break over the horizon.

While I served as bishop my two oldest children were in early morning seminary, but not old enough to drive. We had an old Volkswagen bus and I would take my two children and pick up three or four of their friends and drive them to the chapel each morning. While they were in seminary I would run from the chapel up a street that led me into the foothills. My run would begin in the dark, but as I would return, the sky would begin to gray and by the time I reached the chapel to pick up the kids, the warming rays of the sun heralded that indeed, once again, a new day had been born.

I could go on with many more sunrise experiences, but suffice it to say, I think I know why David chose to describe Christ the way he did: "... He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds..." David was a shepherd boy who cared for his father's sheep in the hills surrounding Bethlehem. How many long nights did he spend guarding those precious sheep, anxiously awaiting the glorious sunrise and dawning of a new day? How he must have enjoyed the warming and life-giving rays of the sun that would come each morning bringing life to him, the sheep, and to the earth.

Christ himself said: "... I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." [John 8:12] Christ disperses darkness, the darkness of sin and of death. Light and darkness cannot occupy the same space at the same time. David's metaphor is very powerful in teaching us that Christ is as the "light of the morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds", dispelling the cold darkness of night and symbolically reassuring mankind that just as the night of death will come to each one of us, so will their come a glorious and literal "morning" of resurrection.

The scriptures reveal the following significant truth as well: " in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings... Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space— The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things..." [Doctrine & Covenants 88:7,11,12-13]

I believe when Christ comes to usher in his millennial reign he will come as the "light of the morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds." I hope we will all be "morning" people then.

Yes, mornings are special as they remind us of the "light and life of the world".

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wisdom Teeth

Well, I hate to admit it, but I am not nearly as wise today as I was a couple of days ago. I had to go to an oral surgeon to have a bottom wisdom tooth and the one next to it extracted.

When I was a young married man I let a dentist in Ogden, Utah talk me into pulling all my wisdom teeth. As it turned out it was not a very wise decision on my part. He started in the afternoon and by 8 p.m. I was still in the chair with only the two wisdom teeth on the right side of my mouth having been pulled. As he was working on me he would say things like, "Oops, I think maybe I shouldn't have done it that way," and etc. He wanted to make an appointment to pull out the wisdom teeth on the left side but for some reason I did not feel inclined to take him up on his offer. He said that at some point in time those remaining wisdom teeth would be a problem to me. I never wanted to see the fulfillment of his prophecy and ever since that time one of my life's goals was to die before the wisdom teeth went bad on me. No such luck!

In all honesty it was a brutal experience. Several times during the procedure I wanted to cry, but old men are supposed to be tough and so I stifled the desire to scream, moan and groan, and just suffered in silence.

The longer the tooth extraction took, the oral surgeon began to look, in my mind's eye anyway, like a hairy, muscle bound, 800 pound gorilla, who was trying to pull my head off.

I must admit that as the procedure continued on and seemed that it would never end I was only thinking of one thing and that was me -- Jack Rushton and the pain and misery I was experiencing at that moment. With the oral surgeon's hands in my mouth, along with his various instruments of torture, I was not very concerned about those troops who had been recently killed at Fort Hood, Texas, and their surviving families and loved ones, or the thousands that have been killed in recent earthquakes and tsunamis, or the poor starving children in Africa, or even some dear friends that are suffering from severe health problems much worse than mine -- I was only thinking about one thing -- me!

I had the same feeling when I suffered my injury many years ago. I was consumed with "me." I was totally self-absorbed in my pain and in that condition could not reach out to help others or to even be concerned with their unique and individual challenges.

I take comfort in the fact that I think all of us, because of our humanness, are much the same way. Victor Frankl, the author of the important book, "Man's Search for Meaning", drew the following analogy regarding the relativity of human suffering: "... a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative." [Man's Search for Meaning, Pages 61-62.]
I believe what he is saying is that if I am having wisdom teeth pulled out in California while people in Fort Hood, Texas are being slaughtered by a maniacal killer, or the good folks in Samoa or Peru are losing their lives because of earthquakes and tsunamis, I am going to be much more concerned with my pain than theirs. I believe like Victor Frankl that each individual's suffering -- regardless of the kind or "size" -- can completely fill his soul and conscious mind leaving little room to be concerned about the miseries of others. Because of this I also believe one of the challenges we all face is to rise above our own self-absorbing pain and misery and be able to reach out emotionally and spiritually to help others in need.

I took a life altering course at BYU as a junior. It was called "Major British Authors." My teacher, absolutely the best one I ever had from kindergarten through graduate school, Nan Grass, had written her doctoral dissertation on the great English writer, John Donne (1573-1631).

Because of her love for the writings of John Donne, we as her students began to love them as well. She felt his prose was the most sublime ever written in the English language. I do not doubt that statement was just hyperbole on her part.
One of her favorite passages from his writings, and one of my favorites as well, comes from his "Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions." (1624) "...No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..."
I have pondered for years about what John Donne wrote so long ago, and believe he described beautifully an eternal principle. Truly, "No man is an island" and any man's death (or suffering) diminishes us because, hopefully as he stated "... [we are] involved in mankind...."

As I think about Donne's words I cannot help but think of the suffering experienced by all of God's children during their Telestial tour of duty upon this earth. As we struggle with our own pain and observe the pain and suffering of others we have several options available to us. We can, for example, ignore and pretend we don't see the suffering of others. At our worst we could take advantage of the sick and weak and take from them what little resources they may have, or on the other hand, be willing to give of our means and time to bless the unfortunate about us.

One thing I know for sure, based on my own personal experience, none of us will ever successfully traverse this Telestial terrain alone without the love and support of others.

We need one another! That is the genius of the organization of the Church. We simply cannot go it alone. Eugene England, many years ago, wrote a profound essay entitled "The Church Is As True As the Gospel!" This was no clever play on words but a profound statement regarding how a divinely inspired Church organization would bless us with the love, support, and strength of others to carry us through, because truly, "No man is an island." Without my family, friends, and the love and support that has been constant from members of the Church since the day of my injury I would certainly have perished long ago.

When the hairy, 800 pound gorilla comes into our lives and is trying to pull our heads off hopefully we will be able to see beyond our own pain and misery and reach out to bless others, and in so doing bless ourselves as well.

"It's Good to Be Alive!"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Great Debaters

I am very wary of recommending movies for others to see.  We all have such different tastes and sensibilities.  If I recommend a movie I think is great and you watch it and think to yourself, "Boy, old Jack has finally lost it," it just makes me feel badly.  Therefore, it is with some trepidation that I am going to skate out onto thin ice and recommend a movie I have seen a couple of times.  Each time as it comes to an end, I have tried to get out of my wheelchair and give those around me a high five.

The movie I am referring to is "The Great Debaters" released in 2007, starring and directed by Denzel Washington.  I am sure that many of you have already seen it. The film, based on a true story, revolves around the efforts of debate coach and poet, Melvin Tolson, (Denzel Washington) at historically black Wiley College to place his team on equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s, when Jim Crow Laws were common and lynch mobs were a pervasive fear for blacks. In the movie, the Wiley team eventually succeeds to the point where they are able to debate Harvard University (Actually Hollywood felt a debate with Harvard would be more prestigious than the one that actually took place between the Wiley team and the debate team from the University of Southern California, the reigning champion debate team in the United States in 1935.)
The movie also explores the social milieu of Texas during the Great Depression, including not only the day-to-day insults and slights African Americans endured, but also a lynching. Depicted, as well, is James L. Farmer Jr., who, at 14-years of age, was on Wiley's debate team after completing high school at that tender age, and who would go on to be a powerful figure in the civil rights movement during the 50s and 60s. [The information cited above is from Wikipedia]

Although they were not necessarily the focal point of the story, I was most impressed by James Farmer Sr. and his son James Jr..  James Farmer Sr. was born on June 12, 1886 in North Carolina. After graduating from the Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida, he came to Massachusetts on foot to attend college. In 1918 he earned his Ph.D. from Boston University, becoming one of only twenty five African-Americans who held Ph.D.s at the time.  He was the first African-American from Texas to earn a Ph.D. Farmer could read English, Aramaic, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.  He was a good, moral man as well, and tutored James Jr. to follow in his footsteps.  [Information from Wikipedia]

To me, the highlight of the story was the often repeated advice James Farmer Sr. kept giving to his son, James Farmer Jr. when he was tempted to not study or give his best effort as head researcher for the debate team because for many months during 1935-36 James Jr. never had the opportunity of actually engaging in a debate, which was his dream and passion.  In those moments of discouragement his father would say to him, "We have to do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do!"

For some reason I can't get that statement out of my mind.  It just rings so true and is very important to me.  "We have to do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do!"  So many people, both young and old, have dreams of doing great things -- things they want to do -- but are unwilling to pay the price and do what they have to do each day so they can eventually do what they really want to do.

For example, I suppose every missionary that has had to learn a foreign language can hopefully identify with that statement.  About a hundred years ago when I went to Central America to serve a 2 1/2 year mission, there was no MTC or language training.  We were told to buy a good Spanish College grammar book and bring it with us.  I had visions of speaking fluent Spanish and communicating effectively with the people -- this is what I wanted to do.  To get from where I was to where I wanted to be was a long arduous journey.  Each day I had to do what I had to do to become fluent in a foreign language.  By rising each day between 4:30 and 5 a.m. for months, conjugating verbs, memorizing vocabulary, and spending hours reading out loud from the Spanish Book of Mormon, alongside the English Book of Mormon as well as the Bible, after many long months I was able to do what I wanted to do and dreamed of doing.

This truth of course applies to so many aspects of our lives.  I believe one of the great lessons we hopefully learn early in our lives is that we have to do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do -- or more importantly become who we want to be.

My son John is an ER doctor.  He truly did not like his first two years of medical school at USC.  It was all theory and little or no hands-on work with patients that had health problems.  I know there were times he wanted to throw in the towel and maybe do something else with his life.  Finally however, after doing for two years what he had to do, he finally was able to do what he wanted to do -- be a doctor and help people.  He is currently a critical care doctor flying wounded troops from Afghanistan to Germany and after they are sufficiently stabilized, flying them from Germany to Walter Reed Hospital in the United States.  What satisfaction this must give to him to help keep these special people alive so they can get the help they need to improve the quality of their lives.  Had he thrown in the towel prematurely, and not done what he had to do when he had to do it, he never would have been able to do what he really wanted to do with his life.

I'm going to tweak the James L. Farmer philosophy just a bit, but I think in an important way.  My life has taught me that "We must do what we have to do so that we can do what we may have to do."

Life being what it is, full of bumps and detours and curves that we never expected to see, some of us may never really get to do what we wanted to do and dreamed of doing.  However, if we have consistently done what we have had to do, we will be prepared to do what we may have to do when life introduces unexpected, difficult, and mostly unwanted circumstances to us.
Good movie!  Important philosophy!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blood for an Enemy

"Blood for an Enemy"

Our son, John, is an ER doctor. The Air Force paid for his education and he agreed to serve in the Air Force for the next three years blessing wounded troops with the skills he had gained in medical school and his residency.

John and his friend Matt Mecuro, as 16-year-olds, were body surfing with me that fateful day when I had my accident and were able to get me onto the beach and basically saved my life. John was very involved in my care until he left on his mission, and through it all gained a desire to study medicine.

His home base is in Las Vegas, Nevada, at Nellis Air Force Base. Each year, he is deployed somewhere in the world to practice ER medicine as needed. His first deployment was a big army base outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. He and two other ER doctors managed the ER unit 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Part of their duty was to take turns going out in helicopters to pick up the wounded.

I thought you might enjoy hearing about John’s first helicopter experience and about what took place. What follows is his e-mail to me.

"Hey Dad and family,

"So things are going well here. I went on my first helicopter mission a few days ago. It was pretty exciting. We had to go pick up an enemy combatant who was shot while trying to set up an IED (improvised explosive device). We flew about an hour to where the patient was being held. He was shot in the bottom while bent over setting up a bomb, but the bullet went into his stomach and hurt his intestines and nicked a big artery in his pelvis. By the time I saw him he had already gone through 11 units of blood, which was the entire supply of blood at that base. Throughout the chopper ride back, I had to monitor his vitals and had to keep giving him drugs to keep him sedated. He kept waking up and looking at me, so I kept giving him drugs to knock him out.

"We flew really close to the ground, about 200 feet. The surrounding area is really pretty and you would never know there was a war going on. There are a lot of rivers and farms, kids playing soccer, etc. In the helicopter was myself, 2 pilots, and 2 soldiers looking out both sides of the helicopter for possible enemies on the ground. Behind us we had a big black hawk helicopter loaded with guns that was covering us incase we came under fire. I was a little nervous on the flight to the get the patient, but on the way back I was so busy keeping him stabilized that I didn't have time to think about the dangers.

"Its pretty amazing the effort we make to take care of the enemy. I don't think they would do the same for us. I mean the guy got all the blood at that one base. If one of our soldiers had gotten hurt, there would not have been any blood for them. Also just think of the risk involved in just going to pick the wounded enemy up. When we arrived with the patient, we discovered we were also out of B- blood and we actually had to get volunteers to give their blood to this guy who was essentially trying to kill us. I think it says something really special about this country that we would put so much effort into saving people like this."

I don't know about you, but reading John's e-mail made me feel proud to be an American. Imagine risking your life to save the life of an enemy who is seeking to take your life -- even giving him your own blood. We do value human life and freedom in this country!

I believe that many of the pundits in Washington, DC could benefit from reading John's simple little e-mail. I know many are opposed to what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe President Bush got us into this war on terrorism in Iraq prematurely -- who really knows? But isn't it refreshing to know that we really are trying to do something very good in the world and that we place such a high value on human life, dignity, freedom and liberty.

There is a spirit of pessimism and negativism abroad in the land. Ten years ago President Gordon B. Hinckley described it as follows: "... there is a terrible ailment of pessimism in the land. It's almost endemic. We're constantly fed a steady and sour diet of character assassination, faultfinding, evil speaking of one another. Read the newspaper columnists. Listen to the radio and television commentators. The writers of our news columns are brilliant, the commentators on the electronic media are masters--but they seem unable to deal with balanced truth, notwithstanding their protests otherwise. The negative becomes the stuff of headlines and long broadsides that, in many cases, caricature the facts and distort the truth--at least the whole truth." [CES fireside, March 6, 1994]

President Hinckley, in that same CES fireside talk, also said while speaking of the United States of America: "I know that she has problems. We've heard so much of these for so long. But surely, my brothers and sisters, this is a good land, a choice land, a chosen land. To me it is a miracle, a creation of the Almighty. It was born of travail. The Constitution under which we live is the keystone of our nation. It was inspired of God. Of it the great Englishman Gladstone said, "As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from . . . progressive history, so the American Constitution is . . . the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man" ("Kin Beyond Sea," North American Review 127 [September/October 1878], p. 185).
Since 9/11 we feel we have truly been put upon as a nation. Can you even imagine what it would have been like to have been living in England at the beginning of World War II when Nazi Germany had already overrun most of Europe and was threatening to invade England as well? Thankfully for Western civilization there was a Winston Churchill, who like President Hinckley, was the essence of optimism and courage. He rallied the people as no one else could in that dark and desperate time. In speaking at Harrow School which he had attended as a boy he significantly said: "Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days--the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race." [Address at Harrow School, 29 October 1941]
And then Churchill spoke the following stirring words to his countrymen after the disaster at Dunkirk when the prophets of doom were prophesying disaster and the imminent demise of the British Empire: "We shall not flag or fail. . . . We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." [Speech on Dunkirk, House of Commons, 4 June 1940]
I believe we need the spirit of a Winston Churchill today in this country. Our way of life, the way of life that inspires us to give our blood to the enemy to save his life, must be preserved at any cost. Whatever your feelings about the war on terrorism or about President George W. Bush, don't you believe we have just begun a battle to the death with a very evil ideology that would rob us of everything we hold dear?
Thank you John, for reminding us that we do belong to a pretty special country!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Precious Present

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven..." [Ecclesiastes 3:1].

Several years after my accident, I was sitting in our dining room waiting for Jo Anne to go somewhere in our van. Sometime before, she had prepared a collage of pictures of me interacting with members of our family on different occasions before my accident. It was in a nice frame and hanging on the dining room wall. For some reason I rolled my chair over to the collage so I could see it better. There was a picture of me with my arm around my oldest son at his high school graduation; another with me sitting at the side of my oldest daughter at her wedding reception. There was a picture of me with my arm around my daughter Rachel just prior to baptizing her and another with me holding my oldest grandson in my arms shortly after his birth. There were a number of other similar kinds of pictures.

As I sat there looking at those photographs a very strong feeling came over me. I wouldn't describe it as a feeling of sorrow, unhappiness or depression; nonetheless it was a very sobering kind of feeling. It was as though a voice was saying to me, "Jack, you really didn't fully realize how good your life was during all those years. You took so many things for granted. What an absolute joy it was for example, to carry your little children upstairs, pray with them, and sing to them and put them to bed. Think of all the basketball games out in the driveway with your sons and the neighborhood kids. What a blessing to be able to sit down at the piano and play and sing the hymns and to use those same fingers to work at the computer." On and on came memories of experiences flooding into my mind that maybe I did not value as I could have at the time.

As I sat there I realized how important it is to enjoy the moment -- "the precious present" -- and to not live so much in the past or in the future. We need to be grateful for the particular season we are experiencing in our lives and not be in such a hurry to just get through it.

A while back we had "Dumpster Day" in our little community of Tustin Meadows. Large dumpsters are brought in and on the designated day we can take all our junk and deposit it in one of the dumpsters. Jo Anne looks forward to "Dumpster Day" like most people look forward to Christmas. As the great day approaches she can be seen searching through the house, with a gleam in her eye, looking for anything of no value that is just sitting there gathering dust. Any possession not carrying its weight by serving some utilitarian purpose is going to end up in the dumpster. I became very nervous as it seemed to me she was spending an inordinate amount of time in my office. Each time she would look longingly at me I tried to say something somewhat intelligent which is difficult, blink my eyes, and give her my most endearing smile. I did not want to end up in the dumpster with the rest of the dust gathering stuff!

The morning of "Dumpster Day" she was in my office and I saw her eying the shelf where my journals are kept and finally, in a panic, I convinced her that they don't eat anything and I would pay rent on the space they occupied if she wouldn't throw them out. At length I convinced her, and in the process we read some interesting journal entries I had made just before I had my accident.

The following are my last two journal entries before being injured.

June 30, 1989, just one month and one day before my accident I wrote: "... being stake president is a wonderful privilege. I value this calling and try not to take myself too seriously while taking the calling very seriously. The Lord has blessed me tremendously and my heart is filled with gratitude when I think of the many blessings we enjoy as a family. The new grandchildren, Mike soon to be in law school, Rich on a mission, John (age 16) having a full-time job and learning some things about life and work. The little girls are so precious to me that I can't even express myself regarding them. Life would be so empty without these special people. What can I say about Jo Anne? Life would be no good without her. I love her more now than I did 25 years ago."

My last journal entry was recorded July 26, 1989, just five days before the fateful trip to Laguna Beach. "Jo Anne and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last week. We went to the Los Angeles Temple to do a session. As we walked into the hallway that leads to the ordinance rooms, one of the workers asked Jo Anne and me if we would be the witness couple. It made this session so special for us... to be the witness couple on our anniversary. Anyway, it was just very special to be in the Temple with Jo Anne and to contemplate the things that have happened in 25 years of marriage. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't want to change a thing."

And then suddenly, we began a new season of our lives. Truthfully, there was a long period of adjustment, but with the Lord's help the adjustment was made, and this new season of our lives has been remarkably wonderful and fulfilling. I believe I have learned a great lesson and I try hard to no longer live so much in the past or in the future, but strive to enjoy the "precious present." Each day is a gift to be valued. I am afraid that one of the most frequently committed sins -- at least in my life -- has been the sin of ingratitude. We just take so much for granted so much of the time. I think we must be very careful to always express our appreciation to a loving and kind Heavenly Father through our prayers and our actions. He is the source -- the fount -- of all of our blessings, both spiritual and material. To recognize this fact daily is perhaps the wisest and most important thing we can do to keep life in proper perspective.

"And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments." [D&C 59:18]


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beware of hippie bands

Being old and retired, I have too much time on my hands to think about the past.  One morning recently I was lying in bed and thinking about some of the experiences I have had as a quadriplegic on life support.  As I did so, for some reason (maybe because it was about this same time of year when it happened), one of my most bizarre episodes came into my mind. 

It went down at Bolsa Chica beach, part of Huntington Beach, California. In the spring of that year I had spoken to the Interfaith Council of Orange County at their yearly breakfast.  Afterwards I was approached by a young high school teacher from San Clemente who asked if I would be interested in speaking at the annual Walk for Hope that he organized each year as a fundraiser for a variety of charities throughout the world. 

He said their goal was to help people in India, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East, as well as the needy in Southern California.  It sounded good to me -- I have always been sort of gullible -- so I said I would be willing to participate. 

He took my e-mail address, we communicated during the ensuing months, and finally the fateful day arrived, as it always does when you commit yourself well in advance to do something.  He assured me that there would be 1000 people at the beach with a stage and a special ramp for me to get onto the stage area.  He said there would be music, a variety of speakers, and would I take 10 minutes?

I felt I should give it my best effort and so I prepared a 10 minute talk around the theme of service.  I went so far as to have Jo Anne read it, which resulted in a major revision -- all for the better I hate to admit.  I have often felt that if Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson could have passed their writings by Jo Anne they would have been so much better.  Seriously though, Jo Anne has the finest sense of what is good and bad in a talk than anyone I have ever met.  I felt good about the final product.

We invited some family members to come with us, which included Jo Anne's 85-year-old mother who was still alive at the time, as well as her Filipino caregiver.

We pulled into the designated parking lot and saw numerous strange looking people milling about.  My contact, the young high school teacher from San Clemente, was nowhere to be seen.  The parking lot was surrounded by wall to wall booths and as we walked and rolled the perimeter we became aware that every liberal, left-wing organization in most of the world was represented.  I went to the ACLU booth to report some quad abuse by Jo Anne, but they didn't seem interested in my case.  The Church of Scientology, Dianetics, the Orange County Weekly -- the most liberal newspaper in Orange County, Animal-rights, and a number of legitimate religions were also represented. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha'i, and a sprinkling of Protestant and born-again groups assembled on the beach as well.  I didn't notice any Catholics or Jews (or Mormons).

Grandma Stuart, at age 85, was asleep about 90% of the time in those days, but as she was pushed in her wheelchair around this parking lot her eyes were wide open.  Jo Anne jokingly said to her "Mom, what are you doing here?"  She looked Jo Anne in the eyes and said "What are You doing here?"  Having grown up as a part of an older generation, she was not very ecumenically minded nor accepting of the left-wing liberal element represented at the beach that day.  I did not hold it against her! 

About this time a hippie rock band mounted the flimsy platform that was the stage.  This group was right out of San Francisco and the sixties, except they had a modern state-of-the-art sound system.  They cranked that thing up to the point that it was blowing the waves out to sea.  Our contact was still not to be seen.  We got behind the band in order for Jo Anne to hear me, and I told her that we ought to just get in the van and go home and leave well enough alone.  Jo Anne is tougher than that and encouraged me to stay and see what would happen.  That was the problem- I was afraid of what might happen! 

Just as the band was concluding their half-hour of "music", my contact drove up in a beat up Volkswagen bus and proceeded to pull out the ramp he had just finished building.  It was sagging in the middle and I doubted that it would hold my 400 plus lbs. of wheelchair with me in it, but closing my eyes I shifted my chair into four-wheel-drive and raced up the ramp and onto the platform.  I almost shot off the back end but stopped with three wheels still on the platform.  I was able to do a 180 and faced the crowd of 10 or 15 who had gathered to see the guy in the wheelchair wearing the BYU hat. 

The hippie band agreed to let me use their sound system and with double microphones in front of my face I started to speak and was heard, I am sure, all the way to Malibu.  The hippie band members seemed to be pleased and stayed to hear me speak. 

I determined that I was going to give this group my best effort.  I started out with some paralyzed humor and a few more people walked over to see what was going on.  Finally I launched into the body of my talk and quoted a great religious leader who once said "When we are in the service of our fellow beings we are only in the service of our God."  They perked up upon hearing that and by the end of the talk I felt that I had connected with at least a few in the audience.  I successfully descended from the platform and when I had all four wheels finally on solid ground I breathed a sigh of relief. 

Nobody patted me on the back or told me what a great job I had done and we went to the van and drove home as quickly as we could.

Is there a point to all of this?  Probably not, except you need to be careful what you commit to do, but once committed, do it with all of your heart.  It was also another testimony to the truthfulness of what the Lord has told us in Doctrine & Covenants 38:30 "... but if you are prepared ye shall not fear."  How true that was that day at the beach.

Was anybody touched by my message?  I will never know, but I knew in my heart that the Lord was pleased that I had prepared well and had given it my best effort.  I felt good inside and my loved ones felt that it was well done and meaningful.  Maybe after all, this is all that ever counts. 

I also learned -- beware of hippie bands from the sixties.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

We Was Robbed!

"We was robbed!"

I think I first heard it as a young boy when I became a dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through, Dodgers fan.  They were then the Brooklyn Dodgers and had the uncanny habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on a regular basis.  However, they never owned up to the fact that it was their own fault and ineptitude that the Yankees always beat them in the World Series, or the Giants, coming from 13 games behind, snatched the pennant from them on a sad September afternoon many years ago.  Oh why couldn't I have been a Yankee fan?  Life would have been so much more pleasant over the years, but I got stuck with the Dodgers.

Especially in those Brooklyn days after blowing yet another game or series, the Dodgers inevitably would excuse themselves by saying, "We was robbed!"  In other words, the umpires were against us, there were too many bad hops, the baseballs were doctored up, the Yankees have all the money, or the pitcher was throwing up spitballs, etc.

One of the most blatant scriptural examples of the "we was robbed" mentality is found in Mosiah 10.  Mormon quotes Zeniff in describing why the hatred the Lamanites had for the Nephites was so intense and never ending.
"They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged ["we was robbed"] in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged ["we was robbed"] while crossing the sea; And again, that they were wronged ["we was robbed"] while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea..." [Mosiah 10:12-13] [emphasis added]
And so, generations of Lamanites had bought into the "we was robbed" way of looking at life, which resulted in hatred, war, misery and suffering.  They simply would not admit the truth of the matter which was "... that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore he was favored of the Lord..." [Mosiah 10:14]

The "we was robbed" mentality weakens us and keeps us from achieving our true potential.  Sometimes as parents, without realizing it, we promote this kind of thinking in our children.  It's the coach's fault that my athletically gifted child is not starting and sits on the bench.  It is the teacher's fault that my intelligent child is not getting straight A's.  It is the piano teacher's fault that my child prodigy is having difficulty playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children and ourselves is to completely eliminate from our approach to life the "we was robbed" mentality and take ownership for what we are doing or not doing with our lives.

My son, Rich, is an avid Dodgers, Lakers, and UCLA basketball fan.  I couldn't have had any influence on him in that regard when he was just a little kid could I?  John R. Wooden, the great former UCLA basketball coach, and arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time, is one of our all-time favorite heroes.  Rich sent me an e-mail that contained a quote made by John Wooden that he thought was very important and that I would enjoy.  The quote is found in a book Coach Wooden wrote entitled, "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court."

In the book, he shared some advise his father gave to him as a young boy that influenced his life forever, both as a basketball coach and as a human being.  It was simply this: "Don't whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses."

Of course, this philosophy is the antithesis of "we was robbed!"  I can't help but think Coach Wooden's philosophy of not complaining, whining, or making excuses will take us a lot further in life than thinking "we was robbed."

Many years ago, in fact it was in the late 60s, I taught seminary at the Utah State Industrial School in Ogden, Utah for three years.  This school was actually a coed prison/Reform School for juvenile delinquents.  They were incarcerated for a variety of reasons -- none of them good!  They were some of the unhappiest and depressed young people I had ever encountered.  They had totally brought in to the "we was robbed" way of looking at life. It is true that, for the most part, they had less than wonderful parents and came from very dysfunctional homes.  Using this, and many other negative things in their lives as excuses for their lawless and dangerous behavior, and the inevitable misery that followed, very few of them would ever take ownership for their unhappy lives. They all had the same goal, which was to get out of the Utah State Industrial School so they could be free and happy!  The facility was not very high-security and these kids were extremely creative in escaping, and running to "freedom and joy."  Within a week, or at most a month or so, they would be returned to the school, worse off and more miserable than when they ran.  They constantly whined, complained, and made excuses for their bad behavior and resulting misery, because they felt, "they was robbed."

We tried desperately to teach them the following significant truth about life: "The Way out Is the Way through!  They wanted out of misery, and out of the reform school, so they could have freedom and joy.  Hardly any of them ever got the message that they couldn't run from their problems but had to face them head on, deal with them, and that the only way to the freedom they desired was to internalize and implement the truth that ultimately, "The Way out Is the Way through!"

It is so much easier to teach a great truth than to live it.  After I had my accident many years ago, I found myself slipping into the "we was robbed" mentality.  I felt I had been robbed of my body, my vocation as a teacher, my service as a stake president, and how could I ever be an effective husband, father, or grandfather again given my physical limitations.

Eventually, the principle I had taught my juvenile delinquents so many years before came into my mind and heart -- "Jack, the only way out is the way through!" 

Immediately after the accident the neurosurgeons had told me I had suffered a "complete" injury to my spinal cord.  That means it had been severed and there was absolutely no possibility that I would ever get anything back.  It took months and even years to accept this truth.  I tried to run and escape from the prison that had become my body even as my reform school kids had done from theirs.  I eventually was able to empathize more fully with their challenge. 

Finally, the day came that I could say to myself, "Jack, you are paralyzed from the neck down and are on life support and that is the way you will be the rest of this day, tomorrow, next week, next month, and for as long as you live."  When I was able in my heart to make that admission I began to work my way out of misery and unhappiness to the freedom and joy I longed to have. 

The "we was robbed" way of looking at life, coupled with whining, complaining, and finding excuses for our inadequacies, failures and unhappiness is a one way street to nowhere.

To face life head on with no whining, complaining, or making excuses, and working through our problems, will enable us to truly be free, productive, and fulfilled. 


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wearing the uniform

It was midnight.  I heard a scuffling noise outside my bedroom door and thought I was about to be murdered or burglarized.  I was relieved when I discovered it was only Jo Anne, but looking a little bleary-eyed and disheveled.  She groaned out the words, "Jack, can I please turn off the game so I can go to sleep?" The Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks were in the 12th inning of a tie game.  Jo Anne is very kind to me and patient, but the words that try her soul are, "Sorry dear, but the game is going into extra innings!"  Because of the lateness of the hour I gave into her pleadings and didn't learn until the next morning that the Dodgers had defeated the hated Diamondbacks in the bottom of the 13th inning when Andre Ethier of the Dodgers swatted a walkoff home run to end the game.

One of the upsides of being paralyzed is that Jo Anne, most of the time, allows me to pursue and satisfy my passion for baseball without making me feel guilty or that I should be doing something more productive.  Let's face it, what can I do?  Please do not reply to that question.

Why do I love baseball so much?  I was born in the little mining town of Ruth, Nevada, in 1938.  Unlike growing up on a farm where there were chickens to feed, cows to milk and care for, hay to be cut and bailed, fields to be plowed, weeds to be pulled, etc., as sons of miners we had none of those character building opportunities. We lived among dirt, rocks, and mountains.  Our dads worked in the mines all day or night, but thankfully, our mothers -- at least my mother -- were very creative in working us.  We scrubbed the floors on our hands and knees and waxed them the same way.  We chopped kindling, and carried in buckets of coal and kindling from the wood/coal shed that was a fixture behind every home.  We washed and dried the dishes.  We worked overtime every Monday because that was wash day -- it was a family effort and it took all day!

My friends and I lived for summer.  Living high in the mountains, we really only had two seasons; a long winter and a short summer.  Most of us neighborhood boys could finish our chores by 10 a.m. and then we were free for the rest of the day.  What did we do?  We played baseball!

There were some old abandoned leaching ponds across the street where we lived.  They were surrounded by high banks; the surface was a coppery sandy substance peppered with rocks of all sizes and shapes.  We were always lucky to have just one legitimate baseball.  After a week or so it would be a copper color, the cover pitted and scarred, and soon one good solid hit would knock the cover off.  We would then wrap black electrician tape around the ball and continue to tape it during the ensuing days until we were blessed somehow with a semi-new, semi-white, baseball.

There really was no organized baseball for young boys.  When you were 14, if you were good enough, you could play American Legion baseball that was for boys age 14-18.  If you made the team and were good enough to play, you played.  If not, you sat.  There were no rules that every kid had to play so many innings; and because of that, many of us probably developed inferiority complexes and our self-esteem suffered mightily.

As a 14-year-old, I was chosen on an all-star team to represent our county at the state championship tournament in Reno, Nevada -- the year was 1952.  We won the championship, beating teams from Reno, and Las Vegas and other communities much larger than ours.  I modestly, but truthfully, admit that I played a meager role in our winning the tournament.  I was a backup third baseman and didn't see much playing time.
Before the Regional tournament between the champions of Arizona, Utah, California, and Nevada we had a two-week layoff.  Our coaches, wanting to keep us sharp, scheduled a doubleheader with a team from Utah.  We took them lightly, played horrible baseball, and lost both ends of the doubleheader.  We laughed it off because we were the champions and were headed for the Regional Tournament in Lodi, California.

I came home after the game and my dad was waiting for me outside at the back gate.  He put his arm around me and said something to me I have never forgotten.  It is so trite I am embarrassed to tell you what he said.  However, if you knew my dad and the relationship we had, then his words would have been anything but trite.  He simply said, "Jake, when you put that baseball uniform on you are supposed to be a baseball player.  If you are not going to play as hard as you can, and play to win, then don't put on the uniform!"  That's all he said, but coming from him that was all he had to say.

Since then I have worn a variety of uniforms and have always remembered my dad's words.  I have worn the uniform of a missionary, a student, a husband, a father, a teacher, and many others as well.  Whenever tempted to do less than my best, I have remembered my dad's words.  

As I have been writing these words I have had come to mind the well-known experience David O. McKay had as a young missionary in Scotland in 1898. "I saw an unfinished building standing back from the sidewalk several yards. Over the front door was a stone arch. There was an inscription chiseled in that arch. When I approached near enough, this message came to me, not only in stone, but as if it came from One in whose service we were engaged: ‘What E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.’ ”

“That was a message to me that morning,” he later said, “to act my part well as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

As to the stone which young Elder McKay had seen in 1898 with its inspiring message, through the efforts of alert missionaries at Stirling, Scotland, the archway stone was acquired by the church in 1965 when the building was being torn down.

Today it is preserved in the Church Museum of History and Art, and a replica is in the lobby of the Missionary Training Center at Provo, Utah, where thousands of young Mormon missionaries continue to view its timeless message as they depart to serve all over the world. (Alfred Gunn -- great-grandson of David O. McKay)


Showing Up

President Hinckley, on the occasion of speaking at a BYU student body devotional said that he was going to share some memories from the past with them.  Then he said, "Old men speak of the past because they have no future, and young men speak of the future because they have no past."

I hate to admit it but I am beginning to become kind of an old man so let me share some memories from the past that have impacted my life in a significant way.

  A few years ago I had the great opportunity of speaking at Chapman University in the city of Orange, California.  Once each semester the Interfaith Council at the University invites someone to come and speak to the students regarding some faith promoting topic.  I was feeling the pressure of wanting to do the best I possibly could in that special setting.

As I was sitting on the stand waiting for the meeting to begin, I noticed coming in the door five people who looked a little bit older than the average student.  They were members from my ward.  I was astonished because I didn't think anyone but me knew about this gathering.  One of the men quietly approached the stand and simply said "We're here to support you."  I must admit my heart was touched and comforted by this simple expression of love and support.

It reminded me of the time when my Dad died in April, 1970.  Jo Anne and I had been married six years, had three little children, and were living in Ogden, Utah.  I had served as Elder's Quorum President in the Washington Terrace Sixth Ward for about three years.  My Dad's death was just devastating to me. We were very close and I could not imagine how life would be without him.  He passed away in a hospital in Salt Lake City and the next day Jo Anne and I and other family members drove immediately to Ely, Nevada to make arrangements for the funeral.  I really didn't know if anyone in Ogden or our ward knew that he had passed away.  The morning of the funeral I happened to turn around and saw coming in the door, Bob Ellis, and Jack Pugmire.  Bob Ellis was one of the elders in our ward and the editor and printer of the ward newspaper.  Jack Pugmire, was a counselor in the bishopric and a good friend. 

I was caught totally off guard when I saw them.  Ogden is over 300 miles from Ely and that made Ely hard to get to.  They had to have arisen extremely early that morning to have made it to the funeral on time.  I had been in pretty good control of my emotions up to that time, but when I saw these two friends come into the Stake Center I could not hold back the tears.  I don't know that we ever even got to talk.  I believe they both embraced me as they left the building and got back into their car for the long drive back to Ogden.  Many years later, their unexpected visit is still a vivid and wonderful memory from the past.

There are events in life that are never repeated.  A wedding, a wedding reception, a funeral, a graduation, a sealing in the temple, and etc. only happen once in a person's life.  We may be tempted to not acknowledge an invitation because, let's face it, life is busy and hectic.  However, in that family's life this event will only happen once and if we withhold our support by our absence it is something that can never be reclaimed.  Conflicts are unavoidable at times but even the worst of us can write a special letter of congratulation and apology for not attending.  We really don't have to do anything special -- just show up; that in and of its self speaks volumes.

I spent the first two weeks after my accident in the ICU of our regional trauma center.  It is impossible to express how I felt, having been told by the neurosurgeons that I would never be able to move any part of my body ever again, breathe on my own again, speak again, eat or drink again, and never be able to live outside of a care facility.  I felt very vulnerable and somehow very much alone, and could not stand the thought of being left alone without family and friends around.  I was able to communicate this thought, and family members stayed with me during the day.  About 6 p.m. in the evening members of our High Council and High Priest group would take turns sitting with me all through the night until morning.  Through an ingenious chart invented and produced by a good friend, by blinking my eyes, once for "yes," and twice for "no," I was able to communicate my needs and even the chapters and verses of the Scriptures I wanted read to me.  They would sit by my bedside and read, and if I dozed off into a fitful sleep, when I woke up it was so comforting to see them there and feel of their love and concern.  One young brother would sing to me the hymns I loved, which brought great peace into my heart at a most difficult time.  Their presence, without them saying anything, spoke volumes of love, friendship, and caring.

Since then, I have often thought of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane asking his beloved friends and apostles to simply wait at a short distance while he went to suffer the greatest agony anyone has ever suffered on this earth.  Yes, he had to do this alone, but even he, the greatest of all, I believe wanted to have the comforting presence of his closest friends about him in this, his greatest hour of need.  "And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one ahour? And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come..." [Mark 14: 37 -41]

I believe those apostles always felt badly that they couldn't stay awake while their beloved Master experienced what he did.  They couldn't do anything to assist him really, but how he must have longed for their support.  Nobody could do anything to change my circumstances after my accident, but what strength and comfort it was to just have so many friends show up at my bedside.
I don't know that we ever need to do more than just show up, but we really ought to work at doing that.

A blind, and almost completely deaf elderly gentlemen, moved into a new ward.  Every Sunday he was there sitting on the front row during sacrament meeting.  One Sunday after the meeting was over,  one of the ward members took him aside and shouting into his ear so that the old man could hear he said "Why do you keep coming when you can't see or hear anything?"  The old man responded, "I come just to show whose side I'm on!"  Not a bad philosophy of life.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Spiritual Paralysis

Jo Anne loaded me up in the van and took me to the doctor's office a while back.  Some tests had been run previously and the doctor announced to us that I had a kidney stone that was too large to pass. He scheduled me to have it blasted which didn't sound too pleasant, but in my unfeeling, paralyzed state I thought I could probably handle it.  I wondered at the time how they would choose to anesthetize me. 

It is very interesting being paralyzed.  In my situation I have no feeling from my neck on down which is both an asset and a liability. Let me explain.  On the one hand, having no feeling is really quite wonderful when I have kidney stones, ingrown toe nails, and minor surgeries performed on my lower anatomy.  I have chatted with doctors as they have cut away at me, which is always a bit distracting and uncomfortable for them.  I think they would rather operate on someone who is comatose.  They do always remind me to be sure and not move however.  I faithfully comply! 

I really do believe though that being physically paralyzed and not being able to experience pain is much more of a liability than an asset. The reason I feel this way is that since I have no feeling, I don't know when I am being hurt and therefore I can't protect myself or know when I am being badly injured. 

One of my daughters had a boyfriend who, on one occasion, was helping to get me into our modified van.  The front passenger seat has been removed so that I can be locked into place by the side of the driver.  Trying to impress my daughter, he got me into the van quickly which was impressive to us all, and started pushing me vigorously into place.  However, in doing so he got me too close to the driver's seat causing the ring finger on my left hand to get caught on the seat.  As he continued to push me rapidly forward I watched my finger being bent all the way back to my wrist and I said to myself, "Boy, I'll bet that hurts!"  I went to the doctor who x-rayed the finger and then announced to me that it was fractured and that he was afraid he was going to have to immobilize it.  I wondered where he had gone to medical school!

Our bodies, as created by Heavenly Father, were designed to experience pain to let us know that something is wrong.  Although pain is not pleasant, it can be a blessing in helping us to seek immediate help to discover the source of the pain, take the necessary measures to alleviate it, and thus avoid more serious damage.

I believe that our spirit functions in much the same manner. However, if we do not heed the promptings that come to our spirits from the Holy Ghost, it is also possible for our spirits to become paralyzed -- "past feeling." 

When an individual is spiritually paralyzed he cannot "feel" the still small voice and is not aware that he is in great spiritual pain. 

Most people I know that are physically paralyzed were brought into that state usually as a result of one traumatic experience.  Spiritual paralysis is very different in that it creeps up on us little by little until, without even realizing it, we are no longer able to "feel" the still small voice of the spirit and of our conscience. 

I think it is important that we understand some of the causes and cures of spiritual paralysis so that we might take the necessary steps to protect ourselves from it, and be cured if already infected.

There are some obvious causes, or rather manifestations of the disease, like violating the law of chastity and becoming addicted to pornography or drugs for example, but I personally believe we usually only do these kinds of things after we have already been infected with the beginnings of what can turn into a serious case of full-blown spiritual paralysis.

And so what might be some of the things that bring on the early stages of this disease?  I believe they can include such simple things as not having our personal private prayers each day, or not reading the scriptures consistently, or just being mentally lazy and not reading good books, or watching too much TV or playing too many video games.

Each day my caregiver exercises my body for me.  It's called range of motion.  By stretching my muscles and tendons my body stays flexible and looks fairly normal.  If I did not receive this daily exercise my limbs would begin to be frozen in place and become distorted and twisted.  I believe the same thing can happen to our minds and spirits if they are not regularly exercised.

President Hinckley told the youth of the Church in the Priesthood Session of a General Conference just prior to his death to: "... Please, please ... not fritter away your time or your talents in an aimless pursuit.  If you do so, it will lessen your capacity to do worthwhile things. I believe it will dull your sensitivity.... and as you look back, you will be disappointed with yourselves."  [Gordon B. Hinckley, May 2005, Ensign.]

Within days following my accident I realized that whatever quality of life I would have from that time on would be centered in the mind and in the spirit. 

Thankfully I had a great love for reading that was instilled in me by my mother when I was a young boy that proved to be a priceless gift upon becoming physically paralyzed in helping me to not become spiritually paralyzed as well.

A while back, a good friend of mine shared an important thought with me that I found to be very meaningful.  He said, "If it is true, it never gets old!"  I feel that way about great writing -- literature, biographies, and history.  This philosophy also applies to truly great music, and especially to the Scriptures.  They never grow old -- they have stood the test of time -- because they are true! 

Thankfully because of wonderful computer technology and voice recognition software, I am still able to search the Scriptures in my condition. 

Elder Carlos E. Asay, a former general authority, once said that "Reading the Scriptures is like having a conversation with deity."  Along with prayer, it is the most important activity I engage in on a daily basis.  Surely I would have become spiritually paralyzed as well as physically paralyzed had it not been for my love for reading and the self-discipline required to do it.

I have often thought if I had not searched the scriptures for so many years of my life, beginning in the mission field, where would I be now?  But because of my love of reading good books ,as well as the scriptures, my days are filled with happiness and fulfillment.

Thankfully, we never need to be the victims of spiritual paralysis; we can immunize ourselves against it through prayer, hard work, self-discipline, keeping the commandments, searching the Scriptures, and exercising our minds through reading good books. 


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

20th Second Birthday

August 11, 2009 Observation:

August 1 I celebrated my 20th birthday.  You may find that strange inasmuch as I have a 44-year-old son.  However, it was just 20 years ago August 1 that I had my accident at Laguna Beach and was born into a new way of life.  For that reason I will always feel I have been privileged to celebrate two birthdays.

It is truly a miracle that I have lived 20 years, paralyzed and on life support.  It is only because of the tender mercies of the Lord and Jo Anne's never-ending tender and loving care that I am still here and able to enjoy life in this state.

Recently I was visiting a good friend of mine who has been in the hospital and on life support for the past 2 1/2 months.  As we were visiting, he needed a procedure performed on him by a respiratory therapist.  When the respiratory therapist saw me, he was intrigued by my wheelchair and life support system.  When he discovered I had been on life support for 20 years he was truly amazed.  He told me that for many years he had worked with a number of young men on life support and that most of them had not lived more than a couple of years.  He was astonished at my quality of life, that I could move about so well in my breath control wheelchair, that we could travel about in our modified van, and that I looked so happy and healthy.  Of course we both attributed it to the incredible care Jo Anne has given me these many years. 

Talking to this respiratory therapist and his reaction to me, made me realize how fortunate I am to still be here.  Too often I am afraid I take life, the many miraculous times it has been saved, and my many blessings too much for granted.  I don't spend a great deal of time thinking about my circumstances and very infrequently ever look at myself in the mirror.  When I do, the thought always comes to me, "Jack, you are in pretty bad shape aren't you?"  That kind of thinking, I have discovered, is a one-way road to nowhere.

My visit with the respiratory therapist and reaching the milestone of having lived 20 years on a ventilator, have caused me to do some serious reflecting. 

Feelings of gratitude have welled up in my heart for the love I have felt from our Heavenly Father and from my family and friends.  Family and friends have said things to me that are usually reserved for one's funeral service.  I am grateful to have heard them while still alive though, because I do believe it is better to be seen and spoken to than to be "viewed" and talked about.  I have never felt pitied by those who know me the best, which has been a great blessing for someone in my condition. 

The other day my daughter in law, Kim, was helping Jo Anne get me dressed while we were on vacation in St. George.  Recently called as a Relief Society President in her Ward, she was thanking me for letting her practice dressing the "dead."  She had already been called upon to perform this service at her local funeral parlor and getting to help dress me was an unexpected blessing in helping her to become more expert in this aspect of her calling.  It really made me feel as though I were still good for something!

Without the spiritual strength I have received from Scripture searching, prayer, and Jo Anne helping me with such "unwearyingness" I know the quality of my life would not nearly be what it is.  However, I have discovered something else that has been a great blessing to me through these 20 years.

When I was first injured, I just felt that I wouldn't be able to do anything of any value for myself or others in my limited physical condition.  Jo Anne made me believe that I still had something to offer to our family as well as to others.  She prodded me, treated me as a "whole" person and challenged me to do things I initially would never have attempted without her encouragement.

With the advent of wonderful personal computers and superior voice recognition software I found I could still be creative, productive, and serve others in my own unique way.  Jo Anne helped kindle a fire that still continues to burn within me to work hard each day and to be as productive as I can be.

Every morning when I awaken I can hardly wait to begin working on my computer.  I always have something I am trying to accomplish and it gives great meaning and fulfillment to my life.

There are times I have felt, and been tempted to just vegetate, take it easy, (who could blame a poor paralyzed man on life support for doing that) and coast along, but thankfully have realized that coasting requires little effort and is usually down hill.

I think what I am trying to say was beautifully expressed by Robert Frost in his wonderful poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."  He was driving his buggy home one evening and in doing so had to pass by a stand of tall trees.  It began to snow big beautiful flakes and all was quiet and peaceful.  He was tempted to stop and just stay there -- maybe forever.  And then he wrote, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."

I believe we are all tempted at times by our own version of "lovely, dark, and deep" woods that invite us to put our lives into neutral and just coast along.  Fortunate is the person however, who realizes he has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps.  It is in the keeping of those promises and struggling forward day by day and mile after mile that joy, peace, and fulfillment are ours.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"If Rushton Can Do It -- Anyone Can Do It!"

Our son John recently returned from Germany where he finished a six-month deployment at a large air base and hospital complex.  Wounded troops are flown there from Afghanistan and Iraq and after they are stabilized they are flown to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC for specialized treatment. 

As an ER doctor he was the head of a team consisting of him, a respiratory therapist, and an ER/trauma nurse.  Almost every week they would be flown from Germany to Washington, DC with severely wounded young men.  Their mission was to keep alive the wounded troops during the flight to Walter Reed Hospital.

He told me of two young men -- one barely 20 and the other in his late 20s who were blown up by an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan.  The youngest of the two lost all four of his limbs, and the older man lost his two legs.  The older soldier was grateful that he had just lost his legs as he compared himself to his friend.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of what John has witnessed during his three years in the Air Force as an ER doctor.

As I contemplate his experience with these wounded troops I realize what a heavy price some individuals and their families are paying in their fight for freedom against these frenzied and misguided fundamentalist terrorists.  I hope we can appreciate what they are doing for us as we go about our comfortable daily lives.  We must never forget them or their predecessors who have fought so valiantly during the 20th century and on into the 21st century defending our freedom and wonderful way of life. May their sacrifices not now or ever have been offered up in vain.

As I have contemplated what John has been through and seen, it has embarrassingly called to mind my own puny contribution to the defense of our nation many years ago.

I was released from my mission to Central America in May of 1961.  I immediately joined the Nevada Army National Guard to avoid the draft.  I was sent to do my basic training at Fort Ord, California in January of 1962.  When I went to Fort Ord I was a physical wreck. I had recently recovered from infectious hepatitis, which put me in a hospital in Guatemala City for 43 days. When I got up out of bed and out of the hospital I was so weak I could barely walk. In that weakened condition I finished out the last few months of my mission and when I arrived home I barely weighed 150 pounds, if that. I was pale and unable to do more than two or three push-ups at a time. I don't think I could do a sit up, and pull ups, hanging from a bar, were impossible. In that kind of shape I flew to San Francisco and was bused to Fort Ord to begin my basic training.

It was just my luck to be assigned to Co. B. 2-1. The company commander was a young man by the name of Lieutenant Squatriglia. The Army was his life. As my son Mike would say, he was an Army "Nazi."  He was in great shape and even had muscles on his head. His uniform was spotless and so starched that you could have cut your hand by rubbing the creases on his pants. Even his underwear was khaki colored. He was an expert in jungle warfare and hand to hand combat.

The first day he met me, we were all standing in line waiting to go into the mess hall to eat lunch. He was standing at the door and as we approached him one by one, he would have us do as many push-ups as we could before entering and eating. I assumed the correct position and cranked out three great push-ups. To say the least, Lieutenant Squatriglia was less than impressed. He just knew that I could do more than I was doing and couldn't believe there could be anybody as weak as I appeared to be. From that day until the end of basic training he made sure that I was the last person to enter the mess hall to eat. He intensely disliked me! He didn't like anything about me. I wasn't "regular army" and he knew it. He knew that I was what they called a "six-month wonder." He took it upon himself to make my life as miserable as he could.

I, in turn, did everything I could do to get him upset. I don't know what it was inside of me but I just secretly enjoyed infuriating Lieutenant Squatriglia. When we marched, on purpose I marched a half step slower than everybody else with lieutenant Squatriglia right at my side counting the Cadence loudly into my ear.

When we had bayonet training he would stand in front of us and holler "What is the spirit of the bayonet?" We were supposed to holler back enthusiastically, "To kill, to kill!" Then he would scream at us, "What two kinds of bayonet fighters are there?" We were supposed to scream back, "The quick and the dead!" He would then scream back, "What kind are you?" We were to holler back, "The quick!" And then he would shout at us, "What kind are they?" We were to shout back, "The dead!" Then we were supposed to growl like tigers. Well, I just couldn't get into the spirit of the bayonet and would always be found at the back of the group not really shouting or growling. Lieutenant Squatriglia was well aware of this. It just killed him.

Lieutenant Squatriglia's greatest desire was for his company to do better than any other company at Fort Ord in the graded test that culminated our basic training. It was a series of 10 events with a possible 10 points on each event. I determined in my heart that I was going to get 100 percent on the graded test. Without Lieutenant Squatriglia realizing it I was beginning to put on weight and was also getting stronger through all the physical exertion and good food. I maintained a low profile however, and just tried to stay out of his way as best I could.

The day of the graded test came. My group's first event was at the rifle range. We had practiced shooting on a number of different days but now we were shooting to qualify in different categories, the highest being "Expert."  You had to shoot Expert to receive the maximum 10 points in that particular event. The old M1 rifle we were using had a peep sight on it similar to the one on the rifle in "Quigly Down Under". For some reason it was just made for me. We were standing in foxholes with our rifles resting on a sandbag. Silhouette targets of men would pop up at different distances and I would squeeze the trigger and they would fall down almost every single time. It was just incredible. It was one of the most enjoyable activities in which I had ever participated. When the results came in, I was one of the few men in the company who had qualified as "Expert" on the rifle range.

I went from event to event earning the maximum number of points each time. One of the events, for example, was throwing a dummy hand grenade through a swinging tire -- 10 times. I put it through every single time. Another was crawling on your belly while cradling your rifle in your arms under a barb wire obstacle course in a specified amount of time.

Well, by the end of the day I knew that I had received 100% on every event. It took until evening for all of the results to be tabulated. When Lieutenant Squatriglia saw what I had done, he thought for sure that I had somehow cheated and had the scorekeepers double check all of my scores. When he finally realized that everything was in proper order he called the entire company of over 200 men out onto the parade ground in front of our barracks. In all of Fort Ord, in that particular cycle of basic training, there were only two men out of the several thousand that were there that had earned 100% on the graded test.  Lieutenant Squatriglia called out my name and had me come and stand in front of the entire company. He told them that I had received 100% on the graded test and then said, "This just goes to show, men, that if Rushton can do it, anybody can do it!"

I have shared these experiences with you for a couple of reasons.  I believe the Lord knew I wouldn't do so well in Korea, Vietnam, or the Middle East.  He let me do my duty to my country at Fort Ord and then at the Presidio of San Francisco.  Also, based on my experience at Fort Ord, I learned to be careful in judging others by their outward appearance. You can never be sure what an individual has done, can do, or especially what they have in their heart.

And then, truer words were never spoken than, "If Rushton can do it, anybody can do it!"

A number of people over the many years since my accident have said to me that there is no way they could do what I have done and endured.  That is so false!  We never know what we are capable of doing until put to the test.  And believe me, "If Rushton can do it, anybody can do it!"


Friday, July 10, 2009


Like all of you, I am sure, I have been inundated by media coverage regarding the death of Michael Jackson.  He certainly seems to have been loved by many around the world.  However, whether you loved him, hated him, or were indifferent, I think most people would agree that, at the time of his death, he seemed not to be a very happy and content human being.  In fact, it seemed to me that he was quite miserable.

His death reminded me of the death of Elvis Presley back in 1977.  One writer at the time said that Elvis got what he wanted and then didn't want what he got.  And what did he want?  It seems that he wanted fame and fortune which would bring him happiness.  In his lifetime he accumulated more of that than most people could ever dream of.  However, like Michael Jackson, Elvis was not content with his life and died unhappy and discontent.

For many years now I have pondered the question of what it takes for a person to be content with their lot in life.  How much money, possessions, accolades, degrees, positions, and fame does it take for one to be content and at peace?

Those of you who know me well have heard me quote Paul's words to the Philippians.  I have always found them very challenging on a personal level.  Having spent his adult life testifying of Christ and being stoned, beaten with rods and whips many times, spending literally years in dungeons, being ship wrecked, and also having a "thorn in the flesh," some kind of ailment from which he was never cured, he was able to write to the Philippian saints: "... I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."  [Philippians 4: 11 (emphasis added)]

In pondering Paul's words and the concept of being content with our lot in life, I believe that it is important to always remember the counsel given to us by Elder Neal A. Maxwell when he said: “... We can and ought to be content with the things allotted to us, being circumstantially content but without being self-satisfied and behaviorally content with ourselves." (3 Ne. 12:48; 27:27; Matt 5:48).  (Neal A. Maxwell, May 2000 Ensign, 72)
I believe he was saying we must never fall into the trap of letting our outward circumstances limit or control our behavior and keep us from achieving our full potential.

If Paul is telling the truth about himself, and I believe he was, what had he learned about life that apparently had eluded Michael and Elvis and so many others as well?

He gives us an insight into the source of his contentment when he says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."  [Philippians 4:13]
It seems to me that Paul is underscoring and emphasizing the words the Savior spoke to his apostles just prior to entering into the Garden of Gethsemane the last night of his mortal life.  "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid."  [John 14: 27]

The world will never be able to give us the peace, contentment and joy that the Savior can.  It is a gift to all who will come unto Him with faith and trust and who will be true to the sacred covenants they make with Him.

Alma taught his son, Corianton, that "wickedness never was happiness."  And the reason for it is that "... they [the wicked] have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness."  [Alma 41:10-11]
Samuel, the great Lamanite prophet, said a similar thing to the wicked Nephites when he announced to them that the days of their probation were passed, their destruction was made sure, and the reason: "... ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head."  [Helman 13:38]

Whenever we are in a state contrary to the nature of God we simply cannot be truly happy or content, experiencing the peace that only the Savior can give to us.  Sadly, millions of Heavenly Father's children have lived out their lives never learning that fundamental truth about life.

I had to learn this truth the hard way.  20 years ago when I was injured, for about the following five years I was anything but content with my lot in life and filled with peace.  Almost daily my heart was troubled and afraid.  About two years into my injury Jo Anne persuaded me to read a book written by Dr. Arnold D. Bissner entitled "Flying without Wings."  I wasn't ready for the book.  I just couldn't believe many of the things about which Dr. Bissner was writing.  Instead of motivating me it actually discouraged me.  However, 20 years later, in a very few sentences, he has captured the essence of how I now feel.  Dr. Bissner contracted polio as a young adult, finished medical school, and practiced psychiatry the remainder of his life, all from a wheelchair.  He wrote: "My disability has taught me a lot and continues to do so.  When I was young and physically strong to live life from a wheelchair was unthinkable.  When I was disabled it was unacceptable.  Gradually over the years however, not only has it become acceptable but I have found it to be satisfying as well."

Can someone paralyzed from the neck down and living each day on life support find that state acceptable and even satisfying?  Strange as it may seem it is the truth!  Paul was right!  What once seemed to be impossible for me has become a reality. We can do all things through Christ which gives us the strength to go forward regardless of our circumstances because of his gifts of peace, contentment and joy.  There is no other way!  He is the way!


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jacob's counsel on priorities

Many years ago, about 1976 I think, I did one of the most foolish things I have ever done.  This was the year that Volkswagen produced and began selling the Rabbit.  Their advertising campaign was so ingenious and persuasive I just knew I had to have this car.  At that time in our lives we were always just scraping by financially. So when Jo Anne reluctantly gave her permission for me to go ahead, I bought the most stripped-down model that was available.  I think it had a radio, but no air-conditioning, no tinted windshields, and only two doors.  It was sort of a red color -- it should have been a lemon color.  At the time we had four children, an Indian placement student, and a dog.  We would take long trips with the seven of us and the dog somehow stuffed into the Rabbit with our luggage strapped on top.  Today Jo Anne and I would have been jailed for violating the seat belt law and for pre-meditated child abuse as well.  Come to think of it though, the Rabbit had no seat belts.

I spent hours at the Volkswagen dealership trying to get them to fix an eternal series of problems.  I think Germany got back at us for winning World War II by manufacturing the Rabbit.  At times I would wonder who really won the war.

One of the happiest days of my life was the day I traded in the Rabbit for a new car.  Now don't think badly of me or question my intelligence or sanity, but guess what I traded for?  That's right, a Volkswagen Vanagon!  Some of us never seem to learn.  As always, balancing ourselves precariously on the edge of financial disaster, I bought the most stripped-down Volkswagen Vanagon available.  It had no tinted windows, no radio, no air-conditioning, and no carpeting on the floor.  It did have some utilitarian rubber mats that you could hose down, which was a plus when going to the beach.  The bottom half of the van was a sick lemon color and the top was a kind of cream color.  We took a number of summertime trips to Utah in that van, with Jo Anne and the kids almost dying from heat prostration.  It was always a roll of the dice whether we would make it to Las Vegas without a problem.  Once we had to spend a week in St. George while the repair people at the very busy Volkswagen repair establishment ordered parts that must have had to be shipped from Berlin.  I imagined seeing Hitler standing by the van, giving me an evil smile and growling, "Gotcha!"

I have spent good money on other worthless things during my lifetime and always get a little bit of a guilty conscience when I read Jacob's counsel regarding our priorities: "Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy..." [2 Nephi 9:51]

Not only am I guilty of spending "money for that which is of no worth," but also my labor at times for that which "cannot satisfy."  On one occasion before I became wiser and paralyzed -- in retrospect it might have been a blessing to have become paralyzed sooner -- Jo Anne talked me into wallpapering the little bathroom just off the master bedroom.  It was a tiny room, which was encouraging at first glance. However, the old wallpaper had to be stripped off and it didn't seem to want to come off.  I sweated, strained, and cussed (just a little bit).  Finally I got it off, but then had to prepare the walls to receive the new wallpaper.  I thought I had measured the first roll of wallpaper correctly, but in trying to hang it I realized I had cut it too short -- and wallpaper won't grow.  The paste began to harden as did my heart toward this tiny bathroom and the supposedly "easy wallpaper job."  Hour after hour went by and then I began to think, which is always dangerous when performing manual labor.  How many people would ever come into our master bedroom and then into the tiny bathroom?  Who were we trying to impress any way?  Couldn't there be a better use of my time than laboring on something that seemed to be so useless and unsatisfying?  Jo Anne, painfully aware of my lack of talent as a handyman and fix it guy, came to my rescue and finished the job herself.  That was painful as well, because I heard about it for some time afterwards.  I wonder why I never felt comfortable using that bathroom.

We live at a time when it is so easy to spend money for that which is of no worth and our labor (time) for that which cannot satisfy in any worthwhile or lasting sense.  Several years ago President Hinckley, in speaking to the young men in the general priesthood meeting, cautioned them to: "... Please, please ... not fritter away your time or your talents in an aimless pursuit.  If you do so, it will lessen your capacity to do worthwhile things. I believe it will dull your sensitivity.... and as you look back, you will be disappointed with yourselves."  [Gordon B. Hinckley, May 2005, Ensign.]
Given the electronic age we are living in, it is not difficult to know what President Hinckley was talking about.

Jacob went on to say in verse 51 of 2 Nephi 9, "... and come unto to the Holy One of Israel and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted."
Jacob has beautifully told us how to order our priorities in life.  I realized within just days after my accident 20 years ago the truthfulness of Jacob's teachings regarding our priorities.  I realized almost immediately that whatever material possessions I had, or whatever degrees or honors of men I had received, meant absolutely nothing.  The only thing that mattered at all was the relationships I had with my wife, my family, my good friends, and the Lord.  Before then and since then I have tried to "come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which "perisheth not, neither can be corrupted."  It has made all the difference in the world.  I haven't always been successful, but I do know what my priorities should be, and as I seek to follow Jacob's counsel, my life has truly been blessed.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Snuffy Smith

I have been listening to a wonderful history about the Eighth United States Air Force stationed in England and flying bombing missions over Germany during World War II.  I think I enjoy the book so much because of my good friend, Allen Rosza.  As a young 20-year-old he was a pilot of one of the flying fortresses making bombing runs over Germany.  Allen went on to make the Air Force his career and was a Lt. Colonel and in line to become a General when he was called to serve as a mission president and took an early retirement.  After his mission, he had served as a stake president a regional representative, and then Temple president of the Los Angeles Temple.  We became good friends because of my work with CES and because I taught his football playing triplet sons in an Institute class at Santa Ana College.
When I was in a rehabilitation hospital for six months following my injury, Allen was a frequent visitor and spent many hours at my bedside encouraging me and giving me blessings.  My son John would spend most Sundays with me so his mom could stay home with the girls and not worry about me.  Our favorite thing to do was to get Allen to tell us war stories about his experiences of flying as a very young man over Germany.  Believe me, it was exciting and John and I loved it.

The title of the book, in case you are interested, is "Masters of the Sky" by Donald L. Miller.  It is an in depth history of the Eighth Air Force and the part it played in helping to win World War II.  If you don't like history don't read this book, but if you do you will be well rewarded for the time invested. It is really a heart wrenching history of gallant young men from all walks of life who gave their lives to save the world from the maniacal dictator, Hitler.  The mortality rate in the Eighth Air Force was far higher than in any other branch of the service during the war.  One of the crew members on one of the flying Fortresses was 27 years old and was considered by his mates to be an old man.  Most of the men, including the pilots, were in their late teens or very early 20s.  Many things in this history have touched my heart, but especially the desire these young men had to help and protect, and save the lives of fellow crew members. Each bomber had a crew of 10 men and their great motivation in battle was not to bomb the Germans, or shoot down the enemy fighter planes, but to work together to save one another's lives and hopefully make it back to England in one piece.  The spirit of these bomber crews could well have been that of Alexander Dumas' Three Musketeers, "One for all and all for one." Sadly, so many never made it back to England or back to the United States either.

One incident from the book that was very inspirational to me was the story of "Snuffy Smith."  Now, those of you that are old enough to remember will know that Snuffy Smith was a hillbilly cartoon character that appeared in newspapers for decades.  The Snuffy Smith of the Eighth Air Force was actually a young man named Maynard H. Smith.  All of his fellow airmen considered him to be a real "wingnut" and always messing up everything he tried to do.

It was during his first mission, on May 1, 1943 that Staff Sergeant Smith, who was assigned to the ball gun turret, helped save the lives of six of his wounded comrades, put out a blazing fire and drove off wave after wave of German fighters. The target of the mission was the U-boat pens on the Bay of Biscay.  The submarine pens were heavily defended by antiaircraft guns and the entire area was nick-named "flak city" by the airmen. After successfully dropping their bombs on the target they turned toward home.  It was at that time that Staff Sergeant Smith's bomber was hit, rupturing the fuel tanks and igniting a massive fire in the center of the fuselage.  What "Snuffy Smith" did next earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

From the official Medal of Honor citation we read:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter aircraft attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. The aircraft was hit several times by antiaircraft fire and cannon shells of the fighter aircraft, 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircraft's oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections. The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode, the radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted. Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then by wrapping himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand. This soldier's gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces."  [The information above comes from the book, Masters of the Sky, and Wikipedia]

Maynard Smith was one of the fortunate few to survive the bombing raids over Germany and lived into his early 70s.

This incident is actually one of many that could be told of young men putting their lives on the line to save a comrade.  They knew they had to be a cohesive team and concerned about one another as much as they were about themselves or they had no chance of survival.

Of course the same is the case with all of us.  We simply cannot navigate this "flak field" called mortality without the support and aid of our family and friends.

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up."  [Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10]
Casey Stengel, famous manager of the New York Yankees, modestly admitted to reporters after winning his first World Series, "I couldn't have done it without my players!"

Jo Anne, like "Snuffy Smith" has put her life on the line for me.  I modestly admit, like Casey, that I could not have done it without her and other family members and many friends.  I'm sure we all have "Snuffy Smith's" in our lives to have been able to come as far as we have.